Letters to Laertes : A Prologue

Who does this shit? I mean seriously. I have read memoires. I have loved some of them, but in terms of writing one myself? About my life? Who the hell did I think that I was?

Ryan B. Clark and Richard Shelton in Mexico

This year has brought an awful lot of distance, and I miss my writers group in Tucson terribly. My entire goal for 2020 was to take chapters, autobiographical in nature, down to Tucson and then send those chapters out into the world. They were going to be my first venturing back into the world of conventional submissions. There were a few reasons for this. First, Ghost Songs had been very successful, and the release concert was just completely awesome.

The book had received good press, and I had found a firm footing as a public figure, not only in the music world but the writing world as well. But, I really wanted 2020 to be the year that I worked at my literary connections as hard as my music ones. Most of the members of my writers group down at the University of Arizona Poetry Center wrote memoir, or memoir-esque non fiction essays. In fact, I am one of the very few who writes fiction. So there was the first thought, that I would be silly to not capitalize on that kind of influence on the personal project that I had in mind. Which leads me to the second reason I really started thinking about memoir. It is pretty simple. I am a private man. Honestly, I am. It takes a while for me to let people in, and really let people see the past that molded the adult man that they see. The few times that I have, the response has been almost universal.

“Ryan, you need to write this shit down.”

Covid-19 changed that. It changed a lot of things.

A recurring thought, one of those persistent son’of a bitches that just will not let you go, will not give you peace, will not stop torturing your attempts at sleep. And the more that thought persisted, as harrowing as it was to think about, I could not ignore it either. I don’t know if it is a sign, or a premonition, or just a general anxiety about the future, but the damn thought would not leave my thoughts.

What if there is not enough time?

I do not mean suicidal tendencies, nor do I mean an obsession with The Left Behind or the Book of Revelation. I do however, spend a lot of time thinking about the books that I have taught, the books that I have learned, the books and movies and songs that have inspired me, and the things I still have left to say. And the red flags are persistent. This world is changing. That is not to say it is ending. That is not to say it is necessarily dire or apocalyptic. It is to say that this world is changing. Right now.

And it might never really… be the same.

I haven’t been able to shake the thought. The harrowing, but not necessarily negative, thought that The Attempt and I were right, and maybe even prophetic, when we wrote the finale’ of ManInfest Destiny: The Mother.

What if the time of people having frivolous money for books…. is nearing an end. What if the electronic outlet that I not only use to publish those books, but promote them, suddenly vanishes. What if the United States Post Office fails, and the November election never happens? This is not crazy talk, nor is it conspiracy theory. It is a stark possibility.

But the words matter. The message matters. They need to be expressed… while there is still time. It has been a certainty that I have been unable to shake. Words. Words. Words. Words matter.

Suddenly, the memoir project, whose working title had been Damn…. Just Damn: The Ryan B. Clark Story, had a title. Letters to Laertes. It was perfect. It was immediate. And it felt more right than most anything else I have done creatively.

“But you will be giving it away for free!”, my inner voice raged.

It doesn’t matter.

“But you will not be able to publish it again this way!”

It doesn’t matter.

“But you won’t make a name for yourself this way, this was your shot to cross the line to legitimacy!”

It doesn’t matter.

“Why the hell doesn’t it matter!”

“Because they might read it. Aidan might read it. Nicole might read it. They might read it. Words matter…. and there just may not be enough time.”

When I was a high school English teacher, I used to love teaching Shakespeare. Every elective credit I took in college was either Shakespeare or Creative Writing. I taught more Shakespeare than was required. I love it. And one of the things I truly love is watching high school teenagers light bulbs come on! So, we would read The Polonius Speech, from Hamlet where the worrisome father is giving some cliched parting advice to his son, Laertes, who is returning to school abroad. As per usual, with no explanation, the students’ eyes would glaze over as images of the weeks of torture ahead flashed like nightmares across their minds eyes.

When it was over. Still with no explanation. I would play them this song.

And I would give them a writing assignment. What was Polonious’ advice to his son? And the only clue they got was The Fresh Prince. Because, my friends…. that is how education happens. I was good at what I did.

So…. what the hell am I talking about?

I will not mention Nicole again. Not directly. But, it is to them that this is written. I have never met Nicole. I have only met Aidan. And I have not seen them in a very long time. I miss them everyday. They left the United States for Canada. Somewhere. A place where Aidan was free to be who they really wanted, needed, to be. For some reason…. I was worth leaving behind.

Or, perhaps, as is part of the growing up, maturing process, I simply was not more important than the self discovery they needed to pursue. In fact, I may even get in the way.

So my son vanished. Without a funeral. And a daughter that I have never met took his place.

And so…. as I started to take this plan of what was supposed to be Damn… Just Damn, and the plan that I had to release the pieces of it to the world, that fear would not go away. What if there is Not Enough Time? What if I never do meet Nicole? What…. if they never really know anything about who their dad really was?

Doesn’t that matter more than a book? Words matter. Thoughts matter. Love matters. Will it matter to anyone else?

What if …..

And the Ryan B. Clark Memoir Project got its title. Letters to Laertes.

I hope that you read it. I hope…. that something in me, rings true…. in the reality of you. Polonius was not a perfect father. Nor was I. But his letters rang with truth. Mine will too. And love.


Next Chapter:

Broken Summers: Letters to Laertes 1

Keep the Greasy Side Down